Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure
Image B Sound B Extras F
starring Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Dana Barron, Jake Thomas
screenplay by Matty Simmons
directed by Nick Marick
Thanksgiving Family Reunion
ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound B
starring Bryan Cranston, Judge Reinhold, Hallie Todd, Penelope Ann Miller
screenplay by Marc Warren & Dennis Rinsler
directed by Neal Isreal
*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras C
starring Tatyana Ali, Botti Bliss, James DeBello, Marieh Delfino
screenplay by Patrick Casey, Worm Miller
directed by David Hillenbrand and Scott Hillenbrand
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Did anybody ever actually read NATIONAL LAMPOON? That question occurred to me while contemplating the idea of reviewing three recent, awful exploitations of the magazine's name, and I came to the conclusion that I've never met anybody who in fact had. Maybe I was slightly too young to know the rag's heyday, for all I remember were the movies stamped with their logo--and it's largely through the popularity of Animal House and the Vacation series that most of the non-snarky population felt their influence. Whatever its content as a publication, it sold tickets for a good stretch--but decades have passed and the Lampoon brand has lost its currency, meaning it's been largely reduced to whoring itself out to low-grade imitations of past successes. Thus we have the ignominy of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2 (relegated to television), Holiday Reunion (cable), and Dorm Daze (more or less straight-to-video), all of which cost money better spent on special editions of National Lampoon's glory-days titles.
Christmas Vacation 2 has one thing going for it: Randy Quaid. He's an actor of real quality, whatever his spotty supporting career, and his fearlessly self-degrading performance is the only element in the film that inspires more than sneering contempt. He's back playing Cousin Eddie, redneck nuisance to cousin Clark Griswold in three of the four Vacation epics; fired from his nuclear-testing job for being less intelligent than a chimpanzee, before you can say Homer Simpson he manages to score a Hawaiian vacation from his bosses because said primate bites him. Naturally, after the proverbial three-hour tour, he and his family become stranded on an apparently secluded island and must adapt to the "Survivor" lifestyle. This provides numerous opportunities for Eddie to make a royal ass of himself, with Quaid heroically committing to each humiliation: he gives such nuance to the stupidity of his character that you cringe knowing he's basically destroying himself on screen.
But then, the whole enterprise is an exercise in degradation, to the point that you marvel at the notion that it was run as a lark on network television. Grown-up Griswold daughter Audrey (Dana Barron, the first actress ever to play the role twice) shows up to heap abuse on herself for getting dumped by a married man, at one point threatening suicide; Ed Asner, meanwhile, buries his liberal crusading days as a foul, crusty uncle who leers at the bikini-clad hostess showing Eddie's family around. All the filmmakers can do is batter their characters for as little money as they could spare, meaning they debase the audience with contempt for their sensibilities. It's hard to watch--and impossible to enjoy.
At least Christmas Vacation 2 has one good performance as a mitigating factor. No such intervention occurs in Holiday Reunion, which spins the Clark/Eddie duality into something far less entertaining, trading on the memory of the Vacation franchise without so much as attempting to rise to its (not especially high) level. Judge Reinhold is a depressed anaesthesiologist; yearning for a tighter familial bond, he sees his moment when a long-lost cousin (a painfully miscast Bryan Cranston) invites him for Thanksgiving--not realizing that said cousin is a) a socially-dysfunctional hippie freak, and b) just looking for a handout in order to hold onto his mortgaged house. A clash of civilizations ensues in which Cranston teaches Reinhold about What's Really Important, various daughters and sons reach various states of détente, and everyone is redeemed in the eyes of the small town that regards our heroes as losers.
In short, it's nothing like the vulgar heyday of the label: the sexual innuendo is light enough to get away with on a Thanksgiving special (at least, a superstation Thanksgiving special), while the family-first guff has none of the cynical kick that gave the real Vacation films their ironic edge. It's as mealy-mouthed as an Air Bud movie, the last thing you'd expect from the people who threatened to shoot this dog if you didn't buy their publication. Holiday Reunion goes so far out of its way to be harmless and non-threatening that it seems more like a business transaction than a comedy. Worse, it's just as ugly as Christmas Vacation 2 without delivering its pitiful shock value.
"Presented" rather than produced by National Lampoon, Dorm Daze at least distinguishes itself from either of the shameful failures discussed above. For one thing, somebody has gone to the trouble of complicating the narrative: the script is an admittedly skilful integration of several plotlines surrounding a college dorm, including the confusion of a prostitute and French exchange student (both named Dominique), the introduction of a bag full of mob money that gets confused with a student's purse, and various romantic entanglements that suffer with a series of misinterpretations. It's blessedly full of incident, in other words, and lit as though somebody actually wanted you to see what was happening. In general, it feels less like a full-scale cash grab than the other titles do.
Too bad the buck stops there: the film otherwise runs the gamut from tediously prurient to borderline offensive--a "Three's Company" episode for those who still think it's cutting-edge to be (that horrible phrase!) "politically incorrect." The offensiveness consists of a black man "hilariously" mistaken for a girlfriend-abuser (I can't begin to tell you how wrong this is) and the reduction of women to shrieking objects with large breasts. (Thankfully, the bulk of the movie is just tiresome.) Every misunderstanding is more tedious than the last until you roll your eyes at yet another crossed circuit sending yet another broad stereotype into confusion. Dorm Daze is the best of this bad lot, but it's not good enough to inspire more than feeble gratitude in light of having suffered through far worse.
Warner's Christmas Vacation 2 disc is predictably lacking. The 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image is a little on the fuzzy side, the occasional haloing effect marring the image--though if you'll willingly submit to watching the film, I doubt you're a stickler for these niggling details. The Dolby 2.0 surround sound is no great shakes, either, its indifferent channel separation defining the word "adequate." Many times more horrifying than the audio-video presentation, however, is "National Lampoon's Christmas Card" (9 mins.), a shatteringly unfunny collection of clips, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes shots featuring witless commentary from executive producer/writer Matty Simmons (a veteran of the Vacation flicks) and director Nick Marck. By the time they offered the finer points of the farting/pissing dog, I decided I could officially call it the longest nine minutes of my life.
Fox's Holiday Reunion disc fares a little better. Coming to us in a flipper fullscreen/1.78:1 widescreen edition (16x9 enhanced), the film sports fine image detail and decent colour saturation considering the cheapness of the production. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is, alas, a little less exciting, under-utilizing the surround speakers and sounding a little flat in the fronts. Blissfully, the only bonus item is a promo for "Arrested Development".
MGM's R-rated Dorm Daze disc* rises to the top of the heap. The 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced image is crisp and bright and renders the muted, haphazard palette with surprising vividness. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also the only real mix of the three, featuring a sharp and robust tone that implies somebody actually cared how it sounded. Though we're not talking Walter Murch territory, it's frisky enough to gently utilize the surround channels for minor atmosphere and is the only one of the three platters to grasp the concept of the subwoofer.
A handful of extras should prove irrelevant to all but the most devoted Lampoonian. Chief among them is an episode of "National Lampoon's Master Debaters" (26 mins.) wherein cast members Tatyana Ali and Danielle Fishel argue the superiority of each other's former sitcoms ("The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "Boy Meets World", respectively). It's so funny, you'll scan through half of it. A four-minute gag reel follows, as do three deleted scenes with optional (and blindingly obvious) commentary by unidentified participants I'm assuming are co-directors the Hillenbrand brothers. Trailers for this film, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Soul Plane, Girls will be Girls, Pieces of April, Coffee and Cigarettes, Saved!, and Unspeakable round out the package.
- Christmas Vacation 2
83 minutes; NR; 1.77:1 (16x9-enhanced); English Dolby Surround; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-5; Region One; Warner
- Thanksgiving Holiday Reunion
91 minutes; PG-13; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DD 5.1; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-10; Region One; Fox
- Dorm Daze
96 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; MGM
*Also available in an "unrated edition" with identical supplements save an audio commentary from the filmmakers.